Casey Baseel

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Casey Baseel spent his formative years staring in frustration at un-subtitled Japanese TV programming shown on Southern California’s international channel. Taking matters into his own hands, he moved to Tokyo to study the language, then found work in Yokohama a decade ago teaching, translating, and marketing hotels he can’t afford to stay in. When not participating in the eternal cycle of exercising to burn the calories form his love of Japanese food, Casey scours used comic and game shops for forgotten classics, drags his wife around the country in a quest to visit all its castles, sings karaoke not nearly as well as he thinks he does, and counts the days until the summertime bars open on Enoshima Beach.

Posted by Casey Baseel

Cultural differences spoiling the sing-along version of Frozen for some fans

Disney’s Frozen is a big hit in Japan, where it’s known as Anna and the Snow Queen. It’s not such a big surprise, as Japan’s always had a soft spot for Disney and stories about the power of friendship and family, and the film’s lack of dramatic, showy romance also fits in nicely with Japanese narrative sensibilities.

So when Disney decided to bring the sing-along version of Frozen to theatres in Japan, a country where you’re never more than a few minutes from a place to sing karaoke, you’d think it’d be an amazingly enjoyable experience for moviegoers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that’s always the case.

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Osaka criminal forgets the most important part of armed robbery: stay armed

In any endeavor, you can’t overstate the importance of making preparations in the proper order. For example, it’s best to plan out what you’ll say for your sales pitch prior to sitting down face-to-face with your customer. Likewise, even if you’ve made dinner reservations and meet your date at the exact time the two of you agreed upon, your courtesy and punctuality won’t be particularly appreciated if you neglected to put on a pair of pants before arriving at the restaurant.

Also, should you want to knock over a convenience store, you should actually secure a weapon before you threaten the clerk and ask for the money. Otherwise, your victim might not even realize she’s being robbed, which is what happened to one would-be criminal mastermind in Osaka.

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Tokyo Skytree’s disappointing attendance: 6.19 million visitors

Tokyo’s two most compelling yet conflicting traits, the energy from its sheer number of residents and the solitude of its back alleys, are both best appreciated from ground level. The metropolis’ scale can only truly be appreciated from high above, though, which is why Tokyo has no fewer than five major observation decks within the city limits.

As the newest and tallest of the group, the Tokyo Skytree, which opened in the spring of 2012, is by far the most prestigious of the group, and it has quickly become a more vibrant symbol of Japan’s capital than Tokyo Tower itself. But even with the millions of visitors the Skytree saw last year, the attendance was still below what was expected.

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The awesome artwork hiding in the Japanese word processor: sakura, dragons, and sake

With over 1,800 commonly-used kanji characters, plus two different sets of 46 phonetic characters each, typing on a word processor in Japanese works a little differently than in English. Many words in Japanese have the same pronunciation but are written differently, so first you have to type the word phonetically, then select the proper rendering from a list that pops up.

The cool thing is that sometimes the selections aren’t just written characters, but drawings of the object in question. Poking around in a Japanese word processor is like a linguistic treasure hunt, and our searches turned up illustrations of mythical creatures, delicious food, and famous landmarks of Japan.

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Baked Kit Kats and ice cream together? Don’t mind if we do

We make no effort to hide our love of Tokyo’s Kit Kat Chocolatory, the store that specializes in gourmet versions of the delicious chocolate wafers. After stopping by on opening day to grab a pack of sakura green tea flavor, we made a return trip to score some special bakeable Kit Kats.

Now, the Chocolatory is tempting us back again with a tantalizing new product: an ice cream and baked Kit Kat combo.

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Can’t finish all your sake? Try bathing in it for healthy, younger-looking skin!

A few of Japan’s most popular pastimes aren’t exactly what some other societies would consider socially acceptable, or even comprehensible, as hobbies. It’s perfectly acceptable to say your hobby is “drinking” or “taking baths,” and while those are both common activities the world over, in other countries most people stop putting their enthusiasm for the first front and center after graduating from college, and the second is seen as more of a necessity than an entertainment option.

Japan’s love for alcohol and bathing, though, is immense, as evidenced by the thousands of bars, pubs, and hot spring resorts that cover the country. Now, some are claiming there are health benefits to combining the two by mixing a little booze into your bath.

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Rurouni Kenshin trailer has rocking theme, gorgeous sets, dudes trying to stab each other

Lupin III isn’t the only anime character coming to life on the big screen this summer. Building off the success of the first live-action adaptation of comic artist Nobuhiro Watasuki’s immensely popular tale of samurai redemption, the cast of Rurouni Kenshin returns for not one, but two sequels before the leaves change color in the fall.

Releasing two films in such rapid succession is a bold move, but if this newly released trailer is anything to judge by, the producers’ confidence isn’t misplaced.

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Why do so many Japanese brides rent their wedding dresses?

While some couples in Japan opt for traditional Japanese-style wedding ceremonies, most choose to get married in the Western fashion. The nuptials are usually held in a secular wedding hall, but much of the décor and pageantry from Christian ceremonies carries over, such as statues of angels, readings from the Bible, and singing choirs.

Fittingly, most Japanese brides wear a wedding dress for their special day. One key difference, though, is that in Japan hardly anybody buys their dress.

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Adorable tiny cosplayer puts one point in the “Sailor Moon is for kids” column

There’s a long-running debate over whether or not Sailor Moon is actually for little girls. On the one hand, the series’ core cast of heroines are all 14-year-olds, and the magazine the comic was originally serialized in, Nakayoshi, has elementary and middle schoolers as it target demographic.

Still, the legions of adult Sailor Moon fans around the world would argue the story has plenty of witty self-referential humor and mature content, including romance and violence. Why, just look at Sailor Saturn, whose powers of death and destruction give her the capability to annihilate entire worlds.

Of course, the character doesn’t look nearly so intimidating when she’s being cosplayed as by an adorable toddler.

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Authentic video game ceramics from Square Enix look beautiful but don’t come cheap

Almost all of the nice tableware in my apartment are pieces that my wife brought with her when we moved in together. As a bachelor, most of what was in my cupboards came from the 100-yen shop, with the exception of one pricy whiskey glass I bought when I decided that even if there was no one around to see me do it, I really shouldn’t be drinking straight from the bottle.

Of course, this scrimping on cutlery and dishes meant more money to throw into buying video games. I may have considered upping my eager budgets for such things if I’d seen these awesome plates and cups from fabled game publisher Square Enix.

That is, until I saw their astronomical price tags.

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A brief history of Japanese girls’ rock

When most people hear “Japanese female musician,” the image that springs to mind is an idol singer, covered in frills and girl-next-door sweetness. You’ll get no arguments from us against the theory that Japan produces more bubblegum pop princesses than anywhere else, and the county’s not likely to lose the top spot on that list anytime soon.

But not every female vocalist to achieve success in Japan did so by hitching her wagon to the idol system star. While its popularity has ebbed and flowed multiple times, the history of girls’ rock stretches back at least three decades in Japan, and today we take a look at, and a listen to, some of its stars.

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Every weekend is an itasha car show at Akihabara’s UDX parking garage

A friend of mine has a theory about Japanese pop idol performances. In his opinion, the real show isn’t the performers on stage, but the fans in the audience putting their unabashed passion on display as they cover themselves from head to toe in clothing bearing the likeness of their favorite singer.

You can make a similar argument about Tokyo’s anime shopping mecca of Akihabara. Sure, the neighborhood is packed with specialty stores, each of which is in turn packed with the rarest and/or latest merchandise. As interesting as the inventories of professional products may be, though, they’re often upstaged by the creations of fans who flock to the district to show them off, such as the anime-decaled cars of Japan’s itasha capital, the Akihabara UDX parking garage.

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Fishermen in Hokkaido hope their shrimpy anime mascot will convince you to eat more ebi

When you’re in charge of marketing for an organization with a name as bland as Kitarumoi Fishery Cooperative Association, we can see how you’d come to the conclusion that your employer could use a quick injection of stylishness and visual appeal in the public eye. This being Japan, there are two quick ways to do this.

The first is to hire a popular actress or idol singer, dress her up in a short skirt and/or revealing top, and get her to pose with whatever product you’re promoting, which in the case of the Kitarumoi Fishery Cooperative Association is currently amaebi, or sweet shrimp.

We’re not sure if this was cost prohibitive or if every spokesmodel on the company’s shortlist turned out to have a shellfish allergy, but the marketing team instead went with plan B: turn the shrimp they’re selling into a cute anime girl.

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Shark shocks Ibaraki aquarium staff by swallowing…another shark

With only about 20,000 residents, the city of Oarai, in Ibaraki Prefecture, isn’t exactly bursting with entertainment options. If you do find yourself with some time to kill there, though, you could stop by the Aqua World aquarium, where aquatic life including sea lions, jellyfish, and dolphins are on hand to greet visitors.

The facility is even home to a number of sharks. Don’t worry, they’re not man-eaters or anything. The sharks might just eat each other, though.

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New Laputa amulet actually responds when you incant the anime’s magic spells

Castle of Cagliostro was the first film anime legend Hayao Miyazaki ever directed, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind the first he wrote on his own, but Castle in the Sky Laputa was the first motion picture produced by Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. As the title suggests, Laputa features a floating civilization, as well as airships, incantations, and magical pendants.

While the flying castle and airships are still as fictional as a catbus or bread-delivering witch, this summer, fans will be able to get their hands on a replica of Laputa’s pendant that reacts when they recite one of the anime’s spells.

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Gotta draw ‘em all! New 3DS game teaches players how to draw over 100 different Pokémon

As a student, I always picked foreign language over art when choosing electives, and when it was time to select an extracurricular activity, I opted for the football team over the painting club. I don’t regret those choices. The language skills have come in handy living and working overseas, and while it’s been a long time since I had the opportunity to use any football techniques, it’s nice to have the knowledge, since you never know when you might suddenly need to tackle a tailback.

However, this means I can’t draw to save my life. Sure, I suppose I could start at the beginning by putting a basket of fruit on my kitchen table and trying to sketch it, but honestly, I could use a little more direction, not to mention a more exciting subject matter that I wouldn’t be tempted to eat before finishing my drawing.

Thankfully, Nintendo is here to help with a new 3DS game that teaches players how to draw pokémon.

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How to make your model robots shoot laser beams without using Photoshop

Despite having a love of giant robots since childhood, I never really got into the hobby of building models of them. I barely have the manual dexterity to properly feed myself, let alone glue small pieces of plastic together, so I was always sure the finished product would never look as cool as the fighting mecha in anime series like Macross or Escaflowne.

Of course, I may have to rethink my stance, now that there’s an easy way to make your models appear to shoot laser beams that doesn’t require any fine motor or photo editing skills at all.

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The humane (and adorable) way to make a flat hamster 【Video】

Like most kids, I went through a period where I incessantly bugged my parents to let me have a pet, and like most parents, once they said OK, they ended up doing most of the work taking care of it.

Perhaps they knew things would turn out this way, which is why when it came time to choose an animal companion, they steered me towards a hamster. They’re quiet, relatively easy to care for, and pretty happy to stay in their cages, which meant we wouldn’t have one running around the house and tearing up the carpet.

Another thing that makes hamsters great pets is that they don’t take up much space. But if you still think the cute little rodents are just too gargantuan, there’s a way to make them even more compact, at least while they’re sleeping.

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Apparently cats enjoy cherry blossoms as much as we do【Photos】

There’s something serene and elegant about cherry blossoms. Maybe it’s their soft color, or the way the delicate petals flutter in the breeze, but the sakura are at once aesthetically enticing and deeply soothing.

Unfortunately, the flowers are also incredibly fickle, suddenly blooming and gracing us with their presence for just a few short days, before coolly vanishing, often leaving their admirers wanting more. In a way, you could say they’re like a group of adorable but capricious cats.

In that case, why not combine the two?

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Zooey Deschanel’s trendy new bag makes her look like she mugged a Japanese grade schooler

As dyed-in-the-wool Japanophiles, we’re always happy when something from Japan catches on overseas. Not too long ago, if you lived outside of Japan and liked your fish raw, or your music Japanese, you were part of a pretty small group. Now, though, it seems like every coastal city in the U.S. needs at least one good sushi restaurant in order to claim a respectable dining scene, and J-pop acts go abroad to play in front of adoring, passionate fans.

So when the writers at our Japanese-language sister site told us a new fashion trend with Japanese roots was winning over American fashionistas, including actress and musician Zooey Deschanel, we thought maybe we were about to get the inside line on the summer’s hottest look.

Then, we found out what she was wearing, and we got a chuckle instead.

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